Saturday, May 18, 2013

New Thoughts on Baptism - Part 2

In continuation with my previous post, New Thoughts on Baptism, I offer a few more things that I have been thinking about.  For those of you who are history and theology buffs (and what I mean is that you can read outside of your own system or tradition and look for things you can appreciate and even assimilate if you believe if is Scriptural), you might recognize some of my recent leanings on Baptism as being pretty close to what the Lutheran tradition teaches.

 As one Lutheran theologian writes:
"In the Lutheran tradition, baptism is essentially a means by which God brings both forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit. This is tethered to the incarnational theology of the Lutheran reformation. Since the 16th century, Lutheran theology has emphasized the “ordinary”or earthly nature of the means by which God communicates himself to his creation. For the Lutheran tradition, the finite is capable of containing the infinite. This frames several of the primary differences between the two strands of Reformation thought. In the Lutheran tradition, grace is not abstract and spontaneous but is tied to specific earthly means by which God communicates himself. This includes the word preached, Holy Absolution, the Eucharist, and Baptism." (An Explanation and Defense of the Lutheran Approach to Baptism by Jordan Cooper, M. Th)
Cooper underscores what I talked about briefly in my last post.  One of the biggest issues many of us have with what I will call a "real" and non-symbolic view of Baptism is that we cannot grasp how a physical substance like water could "do" anything.  It seems strange, even a hearken back to the Roman Catholic Church.  Surely we are past that kind of nonsense.  It seems almost superstitious.  Right?

But are we guilty of being a bunch of Naamans with such an attitude?  Do you remember the story of Naaman the leper?  Even my daughter's story Bible has this great narrative in it.  The story, found in 2 Kings 5, talks about an important man named Naaman who had leprosy.  He came to Elisha, the prophet, to be healed, but Elisha told one of his servants to instruct Naaman to wash in the river nearby (which, ironically, happened to be the Jordan).  Naaman balked at the instruction of Elisha.  He expected some kind of spiritual waving of hands, some kind of miraculous "faith healing".  He expected, perhaps even demanded, some kind of supernatural, ultra-spiritual miracle.  What he got was something very, very ordinary.  "Go wash in the Jordan river."  Eventually, the stubborn Naaman complied, washed in the water, and was healed on the spot.  Do we need to learn the lesson of Naaman, that God can and does deliver grace to us and even come to us through ordinary, tangible, earthy means... the finite containing the infinite?

Before I close, let's take a quick look at one verse for this post:
“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:11-12)
This verse is often used by Reformed folks to link Baptism and circumcision and thus prove that infants should be baptized.  I have no intention of going down that road, yet.  However, I do want to look at what Paul says about Baptism here.  There is a different kind of "circumcision" going on here.  It is a spiritual circumcision, one done without hands, the putting off of the flesh.  How?  By the "circumcision of Christ."  And in the words that follow, Paul links this "circumcision of Christ" with Baptism.  The effect, the spiritual working of Baptism, is this "circumcision of Christ."  It seems that, according to Paul, Baptism does something.  It does not merely symbolize something.

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